Photo by Tallent Show on Flickr.

Arlington may consider instituting a fee for developers who provide less than the “standard” amount of parking in office buildings. The money could be used to pay for improvements in the surrounding area, particularly ones that encourage using alternatives to driving.

At an Arlington Transportation Commission meeting last Monday, staff presented the results of the county’s Commercial Parking Working Group, charged with finding a fair and transparent method for developers to compensate the community for the external costs of building less parking.

Their solution: a three-tier fee for developers that provide less than the “standard” amount of parking for an office building. The minimum parking requirement is about one space per 600 square feet for most projects, and less in Rosslyn, Crystal City, and Pentagon City. Normally, developers only have to comply with standard site plan requirements, like working with the county to provide transportation demand management (TDM) services to the building’s users.

Under the proposal, a developer that wanted to provide less than the standard amount would have to pay a fee. County planners would use the guidelines to decide the amount of the contribution when the developer submits their site plan for consideration. The guideline amounts would adjust periodically according to inflation. The money would be specifically earmarked for improvements in the building’s immediate area or would pay for TDM services for the building’s tenants.

The first two tiers are fairly inexpensive, ranging between $7,000 and $10,000 per space, since it’s relatively easy to convince a small number of people to switch from cars to other transportation modes.

As developers build less parking, it may be harder to convince committed drivers to reconsider, and the county may have to construct or otherwise provide parking instead of less expensive commuter services. At the top tier, a developer would be required to pay $40,000 per space not built, which is equivalent to the average cost of providing a parking space underground.

This is a good solution for Arlington. We have a robust system of review for major projects, and the proposal lays out in concrete terms what developers can expect if they want to reduce the amount of parking in their projects.

Although the payment amounts are lower than I would like to see, they are linked to analysis concerning the costs of convincing people not to drive to work. I would rather have seen payments linked to the cost of construction for parking spaces, which could have more closely reflected the benefit to the builder for reducing the number of required spaces.

Hopefully, Arlington embraces a similar result for residential buildings. Apartment and condominium developers similarly ask to build fewer parking spaces, but there are not concrete guidelines for what community benefits we should expect in return.